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the first

The yarmarka (farmer's market) is about to close. Some of the people are already packing up, offering their last bruised tomatoes at half-price to anyone walking past them.  I am wandering, staring at bunches of herbs, at the same old options - cabbage, pepper, potato, garlic, apple, cucumber. But then I see a pile of peas. The season must have come early this year. I buy a kilo, and some mint. I know what is for dinner. We have not had it in eleven months.

At home, I rip the bag open, showing them to V. She stands by the kitchen table, eyes wide. I crack one open, showing her the little rounds inside. She plucks one out, her pinky pointing to the ceiling.
"Try it." I tell her.
She does, but she does not like it.

I pull out a bowl for them. She jumps up and down a few times. V always wants to help in the kitchen. I pull her to my lap, and we begin pulling them out from the shells. She learns quickly, tossing them with a flourish into the bowl, a few cascading to the flo…

mercy

We go to a little store by us, that has no real name just the one everyone calls it - the "long store". It is a Soviet one, with little counters where you can buy different categories of food, paying individually at each one. We stand at the meat one, so I can buy a piece of pork shoulder. An old lady picks coins from her purse in slow, methodical movements as she pays for a tiny chunk of beef. The woman behind the counter juts her chin at me. I slide towards the pork trays, pointing at the piece I want.

"How big?" She asks me.
I point again at the one I want.
She is shoving her arm into a box behind the counter, pulling out another piece. It is a lump of meat in a cloudy plastic bag, sagging with pink blood.
"Fresh!" She announces to me in a big voice, waving it in the air. "And juicy!"
I shake my head no.
"Too big?" She asks, and goes back to the box.
I point once again at the piece I want.
"This one, just this one." I tell her.
"Oh, Gospodi." She blurts out, staring at me. ("Oh, god" or "Oh God have mercy.")

I stand there. E is looking up at me, shrugging her shoulders.

The woman eventually wraps up the pice I have been asking for the whole time, slapping it hard on the scale. I pay, and she throws my change at me, almost to the floor.

Outside, E's empty lunchbox thumps against her leg.

We walk in silence, even in the elevator.




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